Rhythm & Word Music Therapy Mountainside Secondary School

North Vancouver, BC

Partially adopted by 

“… It’s been a true pleasure to work with [Music Therapist] Calista and her Music Therapy Program over the course of the last year. Due to COVID restrictions, our program started late last year. These first few months of last school year, without music in the building, really helped me recognize the impact of not having any type of music program. Once Calista was able to start working with our students, I was able to notice a palpable shift in the behaviour and engagement of numerous students who began to work with Calista and also greater joy in all those that were, once again, able to hear music in our hallways. Calista, and the Program she has developed, builds kids’ self-esteem as well as helps them form connections and establish a sense of belonging at our school.”

Lucas King

Vice-Principal at Mountainside Secondary

Music therapy at Mountainside Secondary includes rock band, a sing along/karaoke group, a guitar group, a rap and EDM group, a songwriting group, and a piano group. Individual sessions are client centred and tailored to each individuals’ needs. Whether the student’s skills are advanced or just beginner, they all find a home in the music therapy studio. All music instruction is conducted under a therapeutic lens and is just so much more than a regular music class you would find in a high school setting, It’s a family.


Providing music therapy in a high school setting allows for a diverse demographic. Given that these students need additional support in their education, a lot of them arrive at Mountainside with multiple challenges and disadvantages.


13 – 20

Because of the unprecedented events in 2020, including the pandemic, climate change, political unrest, the Black Lives Matter movement, and many more worrisome events occurring around the globe, music therapy was especially important to the students who attend Mountainside Secondary.

The music therapy space was a safe place to talk about these current events, to express their emotions about it, and to bond with others in their age group. The music therapy program gave students an opportunity to relieve some of the anxieties that come along with daily living and something to focus on and look forward to. The program was able to host a masked outdoor gathering for the students to show off their new learned music skills and have a brief sense of normalcy. It was a healing moment for a lot of the students, especially the ones who were feeling isolated the most.

Navigating The Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic

The ongoing pandemic has caused class sizes to become smaller and were separated into cohorts. Each cohort had a different start time in the morning and a different dismissal time. This affected the music therapy program because of the limited times the students could come to the studio. Only 3 students could be in the studio at the same time and they had to be in the same cohort. However, it did not interrupt the program’s popularity and students were scheduled in when they could attend.

Your support would mean 2 days per week of music therapy at Mountainside Secondary School from January to June 2022. This translates to 8 high school blocks or sessions per week and is helping to sustain the existing program. This funding is critical to the school being able to present this program.

Music Therapy is more important than ever, as there continues to be changes in routine, educational offerings, and opportunities for social engagement due to the ongoing COVID pandemic. The students at Mountainside are vulnerable, with high numbers of mental health disorders, learning disabilities, and difficult life circumstances. Because of these factors it can be difficult to engage the students and help them feel safe and welcome. Usually Mountainside has many “value added services” where community partners work with the school to bring in youth workers and many services to keep students engaged and coming to school. Many of these programs will not be held this year to limit the number of people in the building. The Music Therapy program has been chosen as a priority service because of the therapeutic content.

When M first started at Mountainside she was having legal problems and was going down the wrong road. M had already been attending the music therapy program for a few years and said she was so relieved to have something to identify with that didn’t involve getting into trouble. M even went as far as to say that music therapy prevented her from using drugs as it was harder to practice and improve her guitar skills when she was using. This year M was the lead guitar player in the rock band and helped to plan and prepare for the year end show. The show was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID 19 but she was determined to make it happen in 2021. She came up with the idea to host the event outdoors at the same time as the year end barbecue as she had always wanted to perform live and this was her first opportunity. After the concert she mentioned how great she felt and would forever hold on to that feeling. The school is proud to report that M graduated this year as valedictorian.


Calista Switzer is a passionate music therapist with a unique skillset best expressed when building rapport with young adults. 6 years of professional training and experience working with people affected by mental health and physical challenges as well as special needs. During her internship at Mountainside in 2017-18, Calista worked with the students and learned to tailor music therapy to each individual’s mental health goals.

You can help us reach more Canadians with the healing power of music. We invite you to give the gift of music to provide hope, strength, relief and encouragement to Canadians in need.

No contribution is too small!